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Life's an adventure for Johnnie Martinez, acting director of the Community Programs Office (CPO) at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). During an interview in his office Thursday afternoon, he described the unique journey he takes to work from his home in Velarde.
"As I travel to work on my 37-mile commute, I drive past an irrigation ditch that's been in use since 1599, when it was constructed by European settlers who came here to farm," Martinez said. "I drive through the lands of three Native American Pueblos that have been occupied for centuries. Then I arrive to work at an institution with a mission ranging from stewardship of the nuclear stockpile to determining if there's water on Mars. That short 37-mile, 50-minute trip spans centuries of history, culture, tradition and technology. There aren't many places in the world where you can do that."
Martinez has worked at LANL for 32 years. He stepped into the acting director's position earlier this month following the departure of Lillian Montoya-Rael who joined a financial company in Santa Fe.
"This laboratory helps shape the world we're living in and it's a fascinating experience to work here," Martinez said.
This is his third stint at the helm of the CPO, and he said the current focus is on economic development, education and community giving programs; with an ongoing responsibility for insuring meaningful, timely and accurate two-way communications exist between the laboratory and the community.
"Northern New Mexico is like a time machine: You get transported through all these interesting and diverse worlds and our job is to try to bridge those worlds," Martinez said. "And the arrival of LANS, LLC, as the company that has the management and operations contract for the lab has made a world of difference for us, because their financial contribution has gone beyond anything we've ever seen previously. LANS, through its partner companies, Bechtel, UC, BWX Technologies and The Washington Group International, is investing millions of dollars in the community."
LANS' investments continue to grow with LANL's United Way campaign, which ends Friday. This year's theme is called "There's a Million Reasons to Give" because LANS is matching every dollar given by laboratory employees up to $1 million, Martinez said.
There is still time to contribute, and Martinez is asking LANL employees and everyone in the community to take a hard look at what they can do to donate money to United Way and help make a difference.
"We're doing everything we can to end the campaign with a bang and urge everyone to give whatever they can to help these agencies that provide much needed services to the community," he said.
LANS also matches dollar for dollar up to $250,000 in contributions to the Los Alamos Foundation Scholarship Fund.
The CPO is comprised of more than 20 employees, including those working at the Bradbury Science Museum. Martinez praised its dedication and commitment to LANL and the community.
"These days, the laboratory needs community understanding and support to accomplish its mission; the community also depends on the laboratory, and our job in the CPO is to address those needs," he said. "My personal belief is it is impossible to separate the lab from the community. We have almost 12,000 people who are members of this community as well as employees of the lab. The lab is the community and the community is the lab. We're in this together."
Martinez said he sees LANL's challenges as the community's challenges, the community's challenges as LANL's challenges, and the opportunities for one as opportunities for both.
"One of the fascinating things about the lab is that it's so big and diverse," he said, adding that he enjoys the diversity of his particular job as well, which includes field activities all over the world. He could multi-task as a writer, editor and photographer - and once qualified as a scientific crew member aboard military aircraft used for LANL experiments. He recalled one of his adventures in 1980 when he participated in an airborne solar eclipse expedition flying out of Nairobi.
Family roots run deep in Los Alamos and northern New Mexico for Martinez. His mother Ella Martinez' side of the family has lived in Velarde for generations. Grandmother Myrtle Romero was a hematologist at Los Alamos Medical Center in the 1960s, and grandfather Carlos Romero was a carpenter in Los Alamos beginning in the 1940s when he worked on various lab sites and built many homes in the western area, Martinez said. His father, Johnnie Martinez Sr., worked briefly for LANL subcontractor Haddock Engineers before starting his own business.
Martinez attended elementary school in Velarde and graduated from McCurdy High School in Santa Cruz. He worked his way through college employed by the State of New Mexico, working in communications and law enforcement.
Martinez graduated from the College of Santa Fe with a degree in sociology in 1972. He went on to work at The Santa Fe New Mexican between 1972-1975 - first as a reporter and then Espaola bureau chief, before returning to Santa Fe as chief photographer.
One day, he received a surprise call from Bill Regan at LANL inviting him to apply for a position as a writer, editor, photographer in the Public Information Office - the predecessor to the CPO. He finished covering the legislature and joined the laboratory in March 1975.